Op-ed: Ke Huy Quan’s Golden Globes win inspires me to keep dreaming

 Jethro R. Lee, Data Editor

Few people bothered to know who the young Asian actor in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” was, and the actor himself thought the role was a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity he’d never get to cherish again. He did not want that fate, but he felt he could not avoid it. Little did he know he would get a momentous opportunity that would not only change his life but inspire millions of dreamers around the world too.

Asian American actor Ke Huy Quan won a pivotal Golden Globes award Jan. 10 for Best Supporting Actor in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” Actors in the movie diversify how Asians are usually represented in the media. The movie’s lead actress, Michelle Yeoh, expressed her frustration with how people treat representation as “just tick[ing] a box off,” with the mindset of “Oh, I have a Chinese actor there… that means I’m being diverse.” But the film avoids relying on one-dimensional stereotypes used to describe Asian people, with Yeoh playing the role of a Chinese immigrant facing a plethora of challenges — an audit from the IRS, marital problems, issues with her daughter, etc. — when, much to her chagrin, she is tasked with saving the multiverse.

The representation of Asian characters has been a prominent issue amidst the fight to diversify the film industry. Actor Jack Yang, known for his roles in “A Leading Man” and “Justice League,” also experienced struggles with being an Asian actor, growing tired of “seeing Asian Americans on television in bit parts that were sort of degrading and demeaning.” 

Quan and Yeoh star as heroes in the film who fight to preserve their values and teach the audience about what a meaningful life truly entails. They serve as beacons of inspiration who, as an Asian American, fill me with pride. Quan’s win also represents a victory for Asian Americans, who are typically underrepresented in the film industry. Quan himself says that when he struggled to acquire another role from Hollywood for a long time, he “had no choice but to step away” since “it was just difficult to be an Asian actor at the time.”

Quan’s success story inspires me to chase my dreams despite biases against Asian Americans that threaten our success. While I recognize I’m privileged to attend a university that significantly boosts my chances for a successful career, workplace discrimination still exists, so there are companies out there that would deny me opportunities based on something I have no control over. Seeing how Quan’s perseverance led him to success motivates me to continue fighting as well.

Quan’s victory isn’t inspiring for just Asians, though. Anyone who believes their dreams can never be fulfilled due to uncontrollable circumstances has experienced the same insecurities Quan had when his acting opportunities seemed scarce. For years he spent time “waiting for the phone to ring, and it rarely did.” He then admitted that he let go of his dreams of pursuing an acting career for 20 years until he was re-inspired to enter the acting field again after seeing “Crazy Rich Asians,” another film that marked a significant turning point in Asian American representation in the film industry. 

Quan found his perseverance provided a significant boost in his determination to continue with his aspirations. During his Golden Globe acceptance speech, he thanked the movie’s directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, for remembering his talents and inviting him to participate in their project. 

Some may say Quan’s happy ending was inevitable considering he got a head start in the film industry with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Yet, Quan played that role when he was only 13 and attained a role in “Everything Everywhere All At One” nearly 30 years later. Hence, I don’t find it surprising that he thought he wouldn’t get opportunities as spectacular as “Indiana Jones.” 

However, I am proud of his persistence and humility as his career has elevated. He did not let his self-comparisons undermine his wish to “play all kinds of roles,” especially considering the changing landscape of Hollywood. His future has become brighter than it ever has, with Quan recently receiving an Oscar nomination for his role in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

His experience should encourage all of us to keep fighting for our dreams, be thankful for any opportunities graced upon us and continue pursuing them. Quan’s success has reminded me to be thankful for being accepted into Northeastern and getting to participate in the co-op program, despite all the mental hardships I have endured to get where I am. Like Quan, I’ve had many moments of overwhelming self-doubt, questioning whether my ambitions have been worth achieving. Yet, the elation exhibited through Quan’s tears as he was finally recognized for doing something he loved made me yearn for that same happiness too. Thanks to Quan and other inspiring people who never gave up on their dreams, I don’t plan to let go of mine soon.

We all have dreams, and some seem more impossible than others. I cannot deny that a lot of our wishes depend on factors we have little control over. However, Quan discovered that holding onto his dreams helped them become a reality, accentuating that we still have some influence over whether we can achieve our aspirations. I believe we are in a school that invites many opportunities for imposter syndrome: seeing other students get more co-op interviews, having more lavish LinkedIn profiles and grasping positions at more esteemed companies than us may promote immense insecurity. My dear friend from high school said, “other people’s successes do not define our failures.” Quan reminds us that with patience, hard work and a little bit of luck, we too will one day have our Golden Globe moment.

Jethro R. Lee is a second-year data science and psychology combined major. He can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s note: This article was updated March 14 at 11:39 a.m. to reflect a more complete description of Yeoh’s role in the film.